Archive | April, 2012

Read The Books First

28 Apr

ay back in the beginning of this blog I talked about how my daughter fell in love with “The Hobbit” (read part 1 here and part 2 here… they really are cute stories). The Rankin/Bass animated version of “The Hobbit” is the perfect launching point to get young children into Tolkien’s work. Watching it sparked all sorts of questions from my daughter about where the ring came from, and why Gollum was the way he was – which ultimately led me to have to describe some of the back story to her, material from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Both my older children have watched the animated feature and demanded that I fill in the missing details of the story around the edges. Additionally, they have both seen and watched me play their respective avatars in the Lord of the Rings MMORPG, so they are both aware that there is a vast, untapped cache to the story that they haven’t been exposed to yet.

My wife generously lets me keep these "on display" in the bookshelf.

Anyone familiar with Tolkien’s masterpiece knows that “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is not particularly kid-friendly. As opposed to “The Hobbit”, which was originally created as a string of bedtime stories told to his children by Professor Tolkien himself, “The Lord of the Rings” has themes and images way beyond the abilities of a kindergartener (and indeed some adults). On more than one occasion my daughter has asked me when we can watch the Lord of the Rings movies. Similarly she’s asked when we can watch the “Harry Potter” movies, having been made aware of them from her older cousins and other kids at school. I have to laugh, because obviously she doesn’t realize how far beyond the scope of a kindergartener those stories are. All she knows is that they are stories that other people (including her DorkDad) have on the “What’s Cool” list. She’s hungry for them. She knows they’re coming down the pipeline, and she thinks she’s ready for them now.

These are "on display" too. My wife's public acknowledgement that there's a dork living in her house.

In today’s YouTube-world it’s very tempting to plug into the movies first, and skip over the tedious step of reading the book. But that’s a slippery slope. Anyone who’s read the Harry Potter series, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy knows that reading the books is a drastically different (arguably superior) experience. I want my kids to have those experiences. So last week when my daughter asked again when she could watch the Lord of the Rings movies I made a deal with her. “You have to read the books first. Once you read the books, we’ll sit down and watch the movies together”. The deal extended to both the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter franchises. By the time a kid is old enough to read material like that, they should be mature enough to handle the content.

Now is the time to mention that this year my daughter has turned a corner on the reading front. Kindergarten has been wonderful for her in that way. She’s totally excited about her new reading skills. She’s proud of what she can do and she loves to push herself. So it didn’t surprise me this morning while I was in the middle of a diaper change, my daughter came up to me with a big book in her hands. “Daddy, is it OK if I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ right now? She had dragged a chair across the living room to the book shelf, climbed up to reach the top shelf, found and pulled down the correct book.

Whether it's courage or naivete', you have to admire her chutzpah.

I smiled to myself. “Honey, if you think you’re ready, you go for it”. With a huge smile on her face and wide eyes, as if she’d just been given the keys to the secret grownup meeting room, she went off to the living room and cracked the book, confident that with her new reading skills she could conquer anything.

She just about made it through one paragraph. When she ran into the word “tributary” she admitted defeat. “Daddy, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is too hard for me. Can I try Harry Potter instead?”

“You bet, Honey.”

So I pulled down “The Sorcerer’s Stone” and opened it up to the first page for her. I must say, she’s a tenacious little girl. She muscled herself all the way through the first page – a herculean effort for a kindergartener, and by the end she was exhausted. But even so, she was proud of herself. She’d read an entire page, mostly by herself, of a real grownup book. She knew that was a huge accomplishment. Even though she knew she was going to have to wait to watch the movies, she was satisfied. She closed the book, reported her achievement to UnDorkMommy and received the praise and hugs she’d earned so well.

The time will come soon enough. I don’t need her to rush to grow up. But to see that she has the confidence and self-motivation to push herself like that, it gives me hope that we’re doing right by her. Teaching a young woman self-confidence, in a world intent on destroying it, is in my opinion one of the hardest and most crucial things a parent must do. Clearly the seeds are there. I just hope I don’t screw it up while she’s in my care.

On a totally unrelated note, most dorks are well aware of the fact that Sir Peter Jackson is busy finishing up his onscreen adaptation of “The Hobbit”, to be released in December of this year. After screening it to make sure there isn’t anything too inappropriate, I think it’s going to have to be a *special* father/daughter date. Most of it will probably be over her head. But I’m geeking out over it to the Nth degree, and she’s hungry for it too. Assuming the imagery isn’t too “adult” I really don’t see any way it isn’t going to happen. Besides, what’s the use of being a DorkDad if you can’t teach them to geek out with you?

-Dork Dad

From The Top Rope

22 Apr

hen you have a blog titled “DorkDaddy” you have some obligation to the greater public to accurately represent the experience of fatherhood and it’s more subtle nuances. I will tell you this, fatherood is a very complex role – virtually impossible to define in total, especially to people who aren’t fathers themselves. The best you can hope to do is open a window and let the outsiders peak in here and there. Even mothers, who usually have ringside seats to the fatherhood game, can’t fully appreciate what it is we do (nor can we fully appreciate what they do). Outsiders looking in can never understand fatherhood in its entirety, but if you get enough pieces of the puzzle together an image begins to form and you can begin to understand. I would like to provide one of those puzzle pieces for you.

For those of you without children, who enjoy leasurely sleeping in on Sunday morning, or for those of you who do have kids but don’t have the pleasure of two mini munchkins jumping in your bed before the sun rises, you should know that fatherhood presents certain unique challenges on Sunday morning. You see, where motherhood is all about being soft, and supportive, and lovey… the role of “rough-houser” falls squarely in Dad’s camp.

If you enjoyed a nice, peaceful cup of coffee this Sunday morning, if you were able to wake up when your body told you you were rested, if you aren’t currently experiencing any bruised ribs, detatched corneas, seperated shoulders or herneated spleens, let me give you a glimpse into the typical Sunday morning of the average American dad. Picture this: It’s dark. Your eyelids are still glued shut from the eye boogies. You’re warm under your blankets. Suddenly the door explodes open and before you can react you’re double-teamed by your 3-year-old and 6-year-old in a sneak attack that would put SEAL Team 6 to shame. I struggled to put together just the right collection of images to effectively communicate this quintessential fatherhood moment to the uninitiated. I think I’ve found just the right tone. Enjoy, and happy Sunday.

The title says it all.

I love being a dad.

-Dork Dad

Public Opinion Poll

20 Apr

A caption isn't REALLY needed here, is it?

 

-Dork Dad

Deuce Is A Crowd

18 Apr

don’t know what it is. I’m sure my son isn’t the only 3-year-old to make these demands, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why, every single time, Episode V needs me to go in and sit by him in the bathroom when he’s… unloading.

Does he need moral support? Is he lonely? Does he need advice? Is it a pride thing? Does he expect to show off his creation? I’ll tell you this, although conversation durring those times isn’t limited to the subject, he quite enjoys discussing the finer points of color, consistency, aroma, texture… He peers down between his knees and reports on the developments like a network news reporter on the scene. When that conversation runs dry he moves on to whatever fanciful things occupy his 3-year-old mind at the time. Some of the best conversations we’ve had were during the course of his… evacuation.

For extra, SUPER situations.

It makes me more than a little uncomfortable. From my perspective that is a time of solitude. It’s a time for deep thought and reflection. It’s a time to be alone with your thoughts in a way you just can’t do anywhere else in the house. Absent that, it’s a great chance to cruise the internet and/or check Email on your smartphone, ’cause goodness knows the kids ain’t gonna let you do that once your out of your sanctuary. One thing that time is *NOT* is social hour. My son seems to miss that point. “Daddy!” he shouts from across the house. “I have to go! Come sit with me!”

I don’t know from whence this phenomenon came, though I have my suspicions. There may very well be a genetic component at play. A very prominent person in my family has NO problem carrying on extended phone conversations while (s)he’s in the water closet. Others in my family and I learned long ago that if we we’re having a protracted phone conversation with him/her and then all of a sudden a conspicuous echo appeared around his/her voice – hang up immediately and call back in 15 minutes. (S)he has no compunctions about freely moving from the livingroom to the kitchen, to the backyard, to the garage, to the loo — all during the course of one phonecall. Call me uptight, but please don’t talk to me while you’re doing that.

Mom, I know you like to play the “Who-Does-Your-Grandkid-Get-That-From” game. I’m pretty sure you can figure this one out.

-Dork Dad

Blink And You’ll Miss It

14 Apr

Quick! Grab a picture! Write it down in your calendar. Un-DorkMommy had a lapse. She had a moment of weakness. Episode IV has lamented the fact that she doesn’t have anybody to “dress same” with.

Bless her wonderful, amazing, Olympus-sized heart. Un-DorkMommy would do anything for her kids — including suspending (however briefly) her aversion to the dorky practice of wearing matching shirts with your child. She assures me we aren’t going to see this sort of thing again for a long time – until after we can get matching UCLA shirts for the whole family.

For now, Episode IV is walking on air. Her smile is massive.

On my end I’m smiling just as broadly, but on the inside. I don’t want to crack the thin, fragile dorky layer that is only just now forming over the vast ocean of un-dorkness that I married and love so much.

Like everyone who knew Bill Gates as a child will attest to, dorks always win in the end. To use the vernacular of the species Dorkus Maximus:

“Resistance is futile.”

20120414-093828.jpg

-Dork Dad

“Reach out with your feelings”

12 Apr

‘ve established what happens when you expose your son to Star Wars for the first time when he’s 3.5 years old (i.e. nothing… except betraying an understanding between you and your wife that you would wait until he was 6). As sad as it is to say, with my son I just couldn’t wait any longer. The opportunity was there. The desire was there (on both our parts), so I siezed the opportunity and made a wonderful experience out of it (besides the part where I betrayed an understanding between me and my wife that we would wait until he was 6).

With my daughter however, I handled her introduction to the Star Wars universe a little differently. Aside from catching a few references here and there from the general cast-off of my near-constant Star Wars dork-ness, up until now she’s remained relatively Star Wars free. She knew it was out there, she could identify some of the characters on sight, she knows the music, but she never had a gaggle of friends dripping in Star Wars T-shirts (like virtually every boy in my son’s life), and she didn’t have the gender association with me like my son has, driving her to think everything that Dad likes is cool. She was never opposed to getting into Star Wars. It was more of a “we’ll get to it when we get to it” sort of thing.

Well, she’s 6 now. It’s time.

As I’ve mentioned before, part of our bedtime ritual, after reading books, is a 10-15 minute YouTube clip before lights out. We’ve covered the Disney movies ad-nauseum. So recently I decided we’d launch into the Star Wars universe (Episode IV comes first please. It’s just good parenting). It isn’t hard to find pirated versions of all 6 movies on YouTube. So we started with that iconic scroll from the “A New Hope” – even managed to find the unedited, Han-shot-first (should be “Han shot PERIOD) version – and worked our way through the original trilogy 10 minutes at a time.

Thus far the experience has been amazing. Reluctantly I have to admit that 6 is the perfect age to introduce a child to Star Wars. Where my son just sort of glazed over the nuances of plot and character, distracted instead by loud noises, flashing lights and sweet spaceships, my daughter is hanging on every word. She wants to know everything. As we progress she’s asking questions about the relationships between characters, the motivations behind plot-points… She is into it. Which, as it turns out, had a very interesting, unforseen consequence when we came to the end of the original trilogy.

Father figure.

Going into it, my daughter was aware that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. I mean really, is there anyone in the western hemisphere older than 2 who doesn’t know that? As we reached the climax of “Return of the Jedi”, Luke and Darth Vader battle it out in front of The Emperor. This genuinely upset my daughter. As opposed to the first time the two squared off in “Empire Strikes Back” where Darth Vader was essentially toying with Luke, this time the fight was much more visceral and father and son seemed to be genuinely trying to do one another in. “Stop it!” she shouted to my iPhone. “Daddy, they’re going to hurt each other!” She’d seen my son and I playing with our toy lightsabers, but it was always play. The notion of father and son fighting for real just did not comport with her world view. The concern on her face and the panic in her voice was real. The suspension of disbelief was complete. Fighting, real fighting, was not something that fathers and sons should do. She needed them to stop. I noted with interest the effect that the scene was having on her – this little girl for whom empathy hasn’t always come as naturally as her mother and I would like. We carried on.

Unmasked.

We get to the part where Darth Vader has been redeemed, and he’s now lying in Luke’s arms, mask off, dying. I look over to see my daughter with red, puffy eyes, brimming over with tears. “Is he going to die, Daddy? I don’t want him to die.” A big tear rolls down her cheek. Of course he does die, but in that scene he just sort of goes quiet. He dies in a way that any adult would recognize, but for a 6 year old it can be a little ambiguous. The movie goes straight from there to a frenetic spaceship battle, thus stealing my daughter’s attention away from the question of whether or not Darth Vader just died to the scene at hand. Of course the good guys do their thing, and the plot leaves us with mere seconds before the Death Star blows up… the Death Star where Luke and Darth Vader were just coming to terms. We flash to Luke piloting a ship that just barely flies away in time to escape the explosion. Luke is clearly safe. “Is Darth Vader with him, Daddy?” says my sweet daughter. Clearly, in her mind there’s still the glimmer of hope that Darth Vader is OK, and everyone will live happily ever after.

“Shhh,” I said, arm tight around her. “Watch the movie”.

No denying it now.

Moments later, in the movie’s epilogue, as the entire saga resolves, we see Luke setting the funeral pyre to what is very recognizable as Darth Vader’s body. There is no longer any question in her mind. Darth Vader, the badguy through the entire trilogy, the embodiment of evil is dead — and my daughter openly wept. We had to pause the movie.

Through the sobs she asked me, “But he’s a goodguy now, right? Did he go into The Force?” (She was very interested why Obi Wan Kenobi turned up as a blue, glowy spirit earlier in the trilogy – especially as it related to Yoda’s death. We spent a good while talking those details out)

“Watch the movie,” I said. “Let’s see what happens.”

Of course, at the very end we see the blue, glowy spirits of Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda looking on approvingly at Luke Skywalker – and then the ghost of Anakin appears next to them. All is well. Darth Vader has been redeemed. The badguys are finished. And in the eyes of a 6 year old girl, at least in some small measure, Luke’s daddy will always be there for him. The end.

**

I don’t think  my daughter’s unexpected emotional reaction to Darth Vader’s dying had anything to do with dealing with the idea of a parent’s mortality. We’ve seen James Earl Jones die in front of his son (and reappear as a ghost) many times before (“The Lion King”) and we’ve even seen “Bambi” once or twice. I actually read this as the emotional and intillectual development of a very intelligent little girl. It shows that she is able to empathise with someone else (heretofore not one of her strong suits), and that she is able to see that the world is not black and white. The story of Darth Vader tells us that although the difference between right and wrong is stark, the shades of gray inbetween black and white can be difficult to destinguish. It’s easy to pass judgement on people, but until you walk in their shoes you never know if you’d make the same decisions they did given the same circumstances. These are lessons my daughter is ready for. If anything, it confirms the fact that she is at the perfect age to start introducing her to some of the more adult themes that you find in the Star Wars movies.

We have since moved on, and into the prequel trilogy. I’m happy to report that she seems to love those movies as much as the original trilogy – and saddened to report that up to this point (still only 1/2 way done with Episode I “The Phantom Menace”) her favorit character thus far is Jar Jar binks (which is exactly what George Lucas intended). As proof of my own intillectual and emotional development I take note of the fact that I take no issue with my daughter loving the Jar Jar Binks character. I’m just glad that she’s enjoying the Star Wars movies at all, because that means that she and I can enjoy them together for a long, long time to come.

Dinner is served.

 

-Dork Dad

Hidden Talent

9 Apr

o the day finally came, five weeks later, when I looked into the mirror at the little baby I was holding in my arms and he seemed familiar to me – when he seemed not like a new addition to the family, but like a regular part of my life. It was the moment when, looking at that little baby, I couldn’t remember my life before him. It was almost as if he’d always been there. We’re now a family with three kids, and we will be for the rest of our days. However you defined our family 6 weeks ago, looking at that little baby, that memory was just a speck on a distant shore. He’s here now, he always will be, and I honestly have a hard time remembering what life was life before him.

"Blue Steel"

That said, Episode VI is starting to show his individuality. His unique facial features and personality traits are just starting to shine through and it’s fun to watch them blossom. This is the part where my mother just loves to play the match-up game. “Oh, his hair looks red today. No, now it looks more blonde. Oh, he has his Grandpa’s crease above his nose. His eyes aren’t as round as his brother and sister’s, they’re more almond shaped. He gets that from his (Dork)Dad. Oh, his auntie had the same shaped head when she was this age. I wonder if he’s going to be tall like his Great Grandfather’s side, or tall like his (unDork)Grandfather’s side…” My mother could entertain herself for a solid week speculating on the trajectory and origins of a baby’s unique facial features and personality traits. It’s her particular brand of dork-ism, so we humor her and smile (me with my mother’s smile, and my wife with her Grandmother’s broad, toothy smile). My unDork wife, for her part, simply does not understand what the fun is with all this speculation, and for the most part just scratches her head wondering why all the fuss. (Remember, all leads on where my wife lost her dorkiness went cold a couple decades ago. If anyone has any information leading to whereabouts of my wife’s dorkiness please call the tipline: 1 800 DorkDad)

In any case, as I said we’re beginning to see the first glimmers of what’s going to make Episode VI stand out from his siblings. His big sister Episode IV, is a rediculously gifted artist and sculpter, even by adult standards. Episode V could hit an underhand pitched ball out of the air when he was 2 years old. Only just now is Episode VI starting to show the first signs of what his natural aptitudes might be. By all indications, it looks like this kid just might…

…be a tuba player.

At least my mother can say with absolute confidence that he got that talent from my father.

-Dork Dad

(now with 50% more children… and 100% less time for blogging)

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